Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 13 Primary Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Sherry Menor-McNamara, Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor. The other Democratic candidates are Keith Amemiya, Ikaika Anderson, Daniel Cunningham, Sylvia Luke and Sam Puletasi.

Go to Civil Beat’s Election Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

Sherry Menor-McNamara
Party Democratic
Age 51
Occupation President and CEO, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii
Residence Honolulu

Website

Community organizations/prior offices held

Board member, Hawaii Tourism Authority, Queen’s Health Center, JAIMS Foundation, Hawaii FilCom Center, East-West Center Foundation, Center for Tomorrow’s Leaders, Move Oahu Forward, Girl Scouts of Hawaii, Hawaii Bowl.

1. What is the biggest issue facing Hawaii, and what would you do about it?

By far, the issues most people tell me are their top concerns are the rising costs of living and doing business here in the Islands. My number one priority as your next lieutenant governor as we continue to navigate our way out of the pandemic is to guide a strong and sustainable economic recovery that helps our local workers and their families, struggling small businesses, and the state in general.

I will focus my efforts on a comprehensive economic recovery plan that will jump-start our economy, make sure that people have access to affordable housing and quality health care, and support initiatives that will ensure that our young people have the necessary education, skills and training to get good-paying jobs here at home.

2. Many people have talked about diversifying the local economy for many years now, and yet Hawaii is still heavily reliant on tourism. What, if anything, should be done differently about tourism and the economy?

We have made some positive strides in how we manage tourism in the state, but there is much more work to be done. We must continue to support the industry as they transition away from expanding the quantity of tourists coming into our state to a more sustainable model of destination management.

We must also look at ways to integrate other industries, such as our famers and fisherman, local manufacturing, etc., into the tourism business model so that they can also benefit from the large amount of dollars being spent here in the islands.

3. The Legislature this session approved spending $600 million for the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands plus another $300 million for other housing programs. What specifically would you try to do to create more housing for middle- and low-income residents?

While the $600 million for DHHL and $300 million in other housing programs were welcome investments, the housing crisis we are dealing with today is a direct result of decades of failed policies and inaction by those who controlled the state’s purse strings. While the prices of homes have skyrocketed out of reach for most, and the number of affordable rental units available for our working families has dwindled, the issue was pushed to the back burner.

All three Democratic gubernatorial candidates have put together comprehensive housing plans as part of their platforms. Rather than put a competing plan on the table, I will partner with the governor to make sure their plan is implemented quickly with the types of investment needed to be successful. I will also recommend common-sense solutions like a rent-to-own program and making sure our public housing inventory is available to low-income families are included in the governor’s proposals.

In addition to supporting the governor’s plan, I will immediately convene stakeholders — government agencies, developers, builders and the construction industry — to see what can be done immediately to increase inventory, control construction costs and reduce red tape that is standing in the way of building new units.

 4. An estimated 60% of Hawaii residents are struggling to get by, a problem that reaches far beyond low income and into the middle class, which is disappearing. What ideas do you have to help the middle class and working families who are finding it hard to continue to live here?  

Key to my efforts to lower the costs of living and doing business in Hawaii will be to continue my work in the areas of workforce development and vocational training. I want to strengthen the talent pipeline and make sure that our young people have the skills and opportunities necessary to get good-paying jobs here at home.

I will also focus on building a more resilient and diverse economy by encouraging and supporting more innovation. First, we need to expand our broadband connectivity so we have the infrastructure to support and expand distance learning, tele-work and tele-health opportunities.

I will also bring together the public and private sectors to see what can be done to create more high-paying jobs in the health care, information technology, and the green and renewable energy industries.

5. The pandemic was particularly difficult for Hawaii’s public schools. Should there be a change in the way schools are administered? Would you support more local control including breaking the single school district into subregions?  

Hawaii’s statewide school system was designed so that every school in the state has access to the same resources regardless of their geographic location. Breaking the system into sub-regions (by county, for example) and shifting control to local municipalities would severely disadvantage schools in low-income areas, in rural communities, and on the neighbor islands where they do not generate the needed amount of revenue to properly invest into our students and their needs.

With that being said, I do believe that there can be reform within the DOE by eliminating some of the bureaucracy at the top and shifting more of the decision-making power to the area complex level and encouraging more public-private partnership. I will encourage the governor to nominate and appoint members to the Board of Education who share this philosophy.

6. Hawaii has recently experienced a number of prominent corruption scandals, prompting the state House of Representatives to appoint a commission tasked with improving government transparency through ethics and lobbying reforms. What will you do to ensure accountability at the Legislature? Are you open to ideas such as requiring the Sunshine Law and open records laws to apply to the Legislature?

Absolutely. Sunshine and open records laws that other government institutions and agencies follow should definitely apply to the state Legislature as well. But that is only the start. We must end the practice of collecting campaign contributions during the legislative session, impose term limits on state legislators like those that every other state and county elected official are bound by, and take away pensions from any government official who is found guilty of corruption or abusing the powers of their office.

In order to restore faith and trust in government, we must look at the root of the problem: the politicians who have created an environment where this culture of corruption has been able to grow and spread throughout our government. Pay-to-play politics, unchecked power, vindictive policy making and lack of transparency in the legislative process have no place in our Hawaii today. It’s time for real change and to stop the endless game of musical chairs that our career politicians continue to play every election.

7. Hawaii has seen a growing division when it comes to politics, development, health mandates and other issues. A governor represents all the people of the state. What would you do to bridge those gaps and bring people together in spite of their differences?

People want to be heard and feel that their voices matter. Part of my real-world experience that I bring to the table is leading an organization of 2,000-plus businesses that represent over 200,000 employees spread across every island of the state. I have been able to effectively convene, collaborate and build consensus despite the fact that they each have their own interests, needs, priorities and points of view.

I want to use those same skills as lieutenant governor to bring together various stakeholders, community leaders, small businesses, private industry, labor unions, and government agencies to find common ground and come up with common sense solutions to the many pressing issues facing our state.

8. The office of lieutenant governor has few official duties and is often viewed as irrelevant. But some LGs have managed to play a significant role in government. What would you do to make the office more productive? 

As the only candidate in my race who was raised on a neighbor island, I believe I bring a unique perspective to the role. Growing up in Hilo, I have seen first-hand the negative impacts of having politicians and policies that are too Honolulu-centric.

I see an opportunity to use the office of lieutenant governor to serve as a bridge to all of our communities across the state. I will not be isolated on the fifth floor of the Capitol building; I will spend my time increasing public engagement on the neighbor islands and in our rural communities, keeping them informed, listening to their concerns, soliciting their ideas and suggestions, and making sure that their voices are always heard at the highest levels of government.

9. Sometimes Hawaii governors and lieutenant governors have not gotten along very well, and those disputes have spilled into the public realm. How important is it for you to be on the same page as the governor, and how will you handle disagreements on policy?

Although I am a first-time candidate, I have had 16 years of experience navigating government so I understand the process and know that a good relationship between the governor and lieutenant governor is key to the success of any administration. I firmly believe that the lieutenant governor should bring a skillset that will complement and bring balance to the governor and not try promote a competing agenda. Problems arise when the personal political ambitions of a lieutenant governor put them on a separate track from the governor.

I will always provide honest advice and counsel to the governor, but at end of the day, we elect one governor at a time and I will do everything in my power to ensure that the governor is successful and that the administration implements policies that are in the best interest of the people of state. That is the only way Hawaii wins and we all move forward together.

10. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.

We must restore faith and trust in government. Government needs to change the way it operates. We don’t just have an outdated IT system plaguing our state, we have outdated policies, rules and regulations that are standing in the way of progress.

President Bill Clinton tasked then-Vice President Al Gore with an initiative to reform and reinvent government. Their goal was to make government work better, cost less and deliver real results.

I will ask the governor to empower me with a similar initiative to:

  • Identify wasteful spending.
  • Remove roadblocks to progress such as outdated rules and regulations.
  • Reduce burdensome red tape.
  • Form new partnerships with the private sector to fill the gaps in services, particularly in the areas of providing access to quality health care in our rural communities and neighbor islands, as well as more vocational training and workforce development opportunities for our young people.
  • Move more government services online.
  • Reform policies for state departments and agencies with direct contact with the public to deliver better customer service.

We are at a defining moment and must seize this opportunity to give Hawaii a fresh start with bold ideas, fresh perspectives, and new leadership.

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